It was a little over 40 years ago. I was hours away from boarding my plane to Newport, Rhode Island and the Navy’s Officer Candidates School. I could tell that my father was searching for something significant to say. Something that would mark the moment for him. I was going, and the only gift he could give me were words. I don’t think he ever knew just how marvelous a gift those words were to become. His words, his simple yet eloquent thought, would guide me for the remainder of my life.
Decades have passed since that day. I’ve met people all over the world from every walk of life, of every demographic, every temperament, and every disposition. And always in the forefront of my thoughts were my father’s words, “Afford people the dignity they deserve as a human being.”
It’s a simple idea. Which makes me wonder why it was so dam hard to do at first. I mean, there were people that got my respect right off the bat. But others … well … I saw them as flawed; they were ‘less than.’ I was young, brash, judgmental, and pretty much an asshole. But thank God, my father’s words were always there. Lurking just below the surface. Eventually, slowly, they began to prod through the thick self-indulgent layers of my thick skull. And eventually I learned to adjust my perspective, to look at people through a kinder lens. Eventually, viewing people through the lens created by those words became a habit. Now I always see it. In everyone. Dignity. It’s what makes us different. It’s what makes us human.
And it’s why I now get angry when people are treated as ‘less than.’
In the United States, somewhere near the bottom of the ‘less than’ ladder are sex workers. Strippers. Exotic dancers. Escorts. Prostitutes. Porn stars. Culturally, they’re seen as ‘flawed’ and not worthy of dignity. And that’s bullshit. Society’s got it wrong.
They’re people. They love. They live. They aspire. They cope with life. They’re all worthy of being afforded the dignity they deserve as human beings. And part of affording them the dignity they deserve is to recognize their work has value. Work for which they should be fairly compensated. Anything less is inhumane. And anyone offering less is an asshole.